TRACEY FAHY

Artist Gardens

Basketmakers, Loch na Fooey, Connemara

Loch na Fooey is beautiful location in Connemara, Co. Galway and home to renowed Irish basketmaker Joe Hogan. His son Ciaran Hogan, who is based at Spiddal, runs the residential course in basketmaking from a workshop around the corner from his father’s studio.

A basketmaker devotes a good deal of time to harvesting and prepping their materials; both Ciaran and Joe grow their own willow on plots neighbouring the studio and workshop. Osiers or sally-rods as they are called here are grown for basket-making in little sally-gardens in damp corners of both Connemara and Aran (usually referring to Salix viminalis, a tall variety, used to make creels). Varieties grown at Loch na Fooey, include Salix purpurea (ranging from green to black in colour), Salix alba chermesina (red skin), Salix daphnoides (blue skin), Salix rubra continental (yellow), Salix rubra Harrison (red brown), Salix triandra Dark French (brown) and Salix decipiens (white).

Above: Black plastic mulch, willow field with Maumturk mountains in the background, freshly harvested willow, Ciaran Hogan on his willow plot at Loch na Fooey.

Willows for the basket are planted in spring by pushing cuttings into the ground. This used to be done by planting into clean ploughed land, but now it is done through a black plastic mulch such as silage cover. Within a few weeks the cuttings begin to sprout. By early August each cutting has produced 3 or 4 shoots up to 5 ft. (1.3m) long. When the leaves fall in winter the willows are ready to be cut. The rods from the first harvest are often branchy. The rods are harvested each year by cutting while the sap is down, about late November to mid March. Plastic mulch can be removed after the 3rd year by which time the willows are vigorous enough to compete with grass and weed growth. For the first two years the willows need to be cut by hand but after that can be cut by machine. The rods are then graded into different lengths.

Below: Joe Hogan’s studio and surrounding garden plus one of his artistic baskets.

Joe Hogan has been making baskets at Loch na Fooey since 1978 and in that time has earned a reputation for making strong, durable baskets of the highest quality. The colours in his baskets are those of the natural willows which are grown at Loch na Fooey. Joe also makes indigenous Irish baskets such as the donkey creel and lobster pot.”

I made the above baskets on the residential workshop with Ciaran, using seasoned willow. Left-Right: Finishing a round basket, putting a foot on the round basket, studio view, making a traditional skib (an Irish potato basket used for straining and serving potatoes).

Below: Inspired by the colours and textures of the rugged landscape at Loch na Fooey.